Assam-Meghalaya Boundary Dispute

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Assam-Meghalaya Boundary Dispute

Mains level : Inter-state boundary dispute in India

The recent firing incident on the Assam-Meghalaya border has put the focus on the five-decade-old boundary issue between the two northeastern states.

What is the Assam-Meghalaya Boundary Dispute?

  • Meghalaya, carved out of Assam as an autonomous State in 1970, became a full-fledged State in 1972.
  • The creation of the new State was based on the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969, which the Meghalaya government refused to accept.
  • This was because the Act followed the recommendations of a 1951 committee to define the boundary of Meghalaya.
  • On that panel’s recommendations, areas of the present-day East Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills districts of Meghalaya were transferred to the Karbi Anglong, Kamrup (metro) and Kamrup districts of Assam.
  • Meghalaya contested these transfers after statehood, claiming that they belonged to its tribal chieftains.
  • Assam said the Meghalaya government could neither provide documents nor archival materials to prove its claim over these areas.
  • After claims and counter-claims, the dispute was narrowed down to 12 sectors on the basis of an official claim by Meghalaya in 2011.

Other boundary disputes in North-East

The states of the Northeast were largely carved out of Assam, which has border disputes with several states.

During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate state one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them.

  • Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam.
  • In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed. The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court
  • On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992, according to the same research paper.
  • Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes. This boundary issue is being heard by the Supreme Court.
  • The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently. As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.

 How did the two governments go about handling the issue?

  • The two States had initially tried resolving the border dispute through negotiations but the first serious attempt was in May 1983 when they formed a joint official committee to address the issue.
  • In its report submitted in November 1983, the committee suggested that the Survey of India should re-delineate the boundary with the cooperation of both the States towards settling the dispute.
  • There was no follow-up action. As more areas began to be disputed, the two States agreed to the constitution of an independent panel in 1985.
  • Headed by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, the committee submitted its report in 1987.
  • Meghalaya rejected the report as it was allegedly pro-Assam.
  • In 2019, the Meghalaya government petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to settle the dispute. The petition was dismissed.

How was the ice broken?

  • In January 2021, Home Minister urged all the north-eastern States to resolve their boundary disputes by August 15, 2022, when the country celebrates 75 years of Independence.
  • It was felt that the effort could be fast-tracked since the region’s sister-States either had a common ruling party.
  • In June 2021, the two States decided to resume talks at the CM level and adopt a “give-and-take” policy to settle the disputes once and for all.
  • Of the 12 disputed sectors, six “less complicated” areas — Tarabari, Gizang, Hahim, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata and Ratacherra — were chosen for resolving in the first phase.
  • Both States formed three regional committees, one each for a district affected by the disputed sectors.

What were the principles followed?

  • These committees, each headed by a cabinet minister, were given “five principles” for approaching the issue.
  • These principles are historical facts of a disputed sector, ethnicity, and administrative convenience, willingness of people and contiguity of land preferably with natural boundaries such as rivers, streams and rocks.
  • The committee members conducted surveys of the disputed sectors and held several meetings with the local stakeholders.
  • This paved the way for the March 29 closure of the six disputed sectors.

Issues with this settlement

  • Officials in Assam said it was better to let go of areas where they did not have any administrative control rather than “live with an irritant forever”.
  • However, residents in the other six disputed sectors feel the “give-and-take” template could spell disaster for them.
  • The fear is more among non-tribal people who could end up living in a “tribal Meghalaya with no rights”.

 

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